Channel catfish are easily distinguished from most catfish by their deeply forked tail fin, except for Blue catfish which are similar. Their coloration is typically a dark grayish to slate along the back shading lighter to a white underside. Frequently channels are covered with small, black spots, although in large adults the spots are frequently absent. The anal fin is rounded with 24-29 rays, as compared to the straight edged fin of a blue with 30 or more rays.
Sexual maturity usually occurs 3-6 years, generally by 12 inches in length. Spawning occurs when water temperature reach 70 degree, generally early summer. Channels are nesting fish, and the preferred sites are cavities in most any type of structure, even an old bucket will do. Once the gelatinous mass of eggs are laid, the male protects them until they’re hatched and for about a week longer after that.
As omnivores, channel cats feed on a large variety of items, including insects, mollusks, crustaceans, fish, and even some plant material. While they do scavenge, their preference is for living food. They are definitely a top end predator. Although channels feed mostly at night, and are most active from sunset into the early evening, they can be caught at all hours.
Channel Catfish in Florida
The following is courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission:
Appearance: Catfish are easy to distinguish by their whisker-like sensory barbels and a forked tail. Channel catfish have a rounded anal fin and scattered black spots along their back and sides. Males become especially dark during spawning season and develop a thickened pad on their head.
Habitat: Channel catfish are found throughout Florida, and spawn in holes and crevices.
Behavior: Primarily bottom feeders, channels also feed higher up. Major foods are aquatic insects, crayfish, mollusks, crustaceans and fish - not detritus or decaying material.
State Record: 44.50 lbs. Big Catch: 31 inches or 15.0 lbs.